It will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that the US Defence Department spends big when it comes to weaponry. But it may surprise you to hear just how big. In 2013 Congress approved a budget of $631 billion dollars. In 2011 it was a mere $287 billion. None of this cash goes towards veterans of other post-army re-integration frameworks; instead it is a budget for arms and deployment of the US military and marines. With the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2011 alone coming in at $159 billion, we can get a sense of the size and scale of the defence portfolio – and the money behind it.
Of course, with huge money comes huge power, and the US Defence Department has both by the truckload. The US army and navy are regarded as the most powerful in the world and, naturally, this superior skill is reflected in their budgets as much as in their weaponry. Nevertheless, this $631 billion does come from taxpayers’ money, so if you’re wondering just how and where the Defence Department plans on spending that cash, then look no further than our top ten guide. The list of some of the biggest – and of course the priciest – things in the military’s arsenal of weaponry demonstrates just how much it costs to maintain the United States as the superpower that it is. Our list is ranked by the cost-per-single-item, not how much the military spends on these items in total. So keep in mind, the US military’s thinking tends to be; why have an over-the-top nuclear submarine, when you can have an entire fleet of them?
10. Trident II Missile: $65.7 Million
The number ten spot on our list demonstrates that while the cost-per-unit may be comparatively small, the military knows no restrictions when it comes to quantity. The U.S. is reported to have over 500 of these ballistic missiles, each of which weighs 80 tonnes and is 44 foot long. That’s a total cost of $35 billion in spending on one type of weapon alone. And what exactly is a ballistic missile, you might ask: It’s a type of weapon that is fired at extreme force and then travels, unguided, to its target. The Trident II missiles are equipped with thermonuclear warheads and travel at a top speed of 13,000 miles per hour. To top it all off, they also have a 4,600 mile range. The missiles are held aboard the Ohio class nuclear submarines, and are owned by the American and British military. The missile is the result of almost half a century of research and development by the US military, who began their ballistic missiles project in the mid 1950s.
9. Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet: $90.8 Million
Boeing may be known to most of us as a commercial airline manufacturer but these guys have plenty more tricks up their sleeves; and with 556 of these fighter jets in the military’s arsenal, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of them. These small one- and two-man jets are predominantly used by the Navy. As a fighter jet, these aircraft obviously come loaded for battle, including air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles. The planes are generally used for reconnaissance missions, back up support, maritime strikes and – as Boeing’s own catalogue description diplomatically phrases it – “anti-air warfare” and “suppression of enemy air defence.” We’re pretty sure that just means fighting in the sky, right? With a total cost of $57.8 billion to the Navy to purchase this five hundred-strong fleet, we sure hope they’re worth it.
8. V-22 Osprey: $95.2 Million
While the Super Hornet may seem like a deadly but predictable piece of weaponry from the military, the V-22 Osprey is something you quite possibly didn’t even realise was real. These mammoth aircraft are known as tiltrotors; basically a sort of aeroplane/helicopter hybrid. Shaped more like an aeroplane but with the chopper’s distinctive blades, the Osprey is capable of both runway and vertical takeoff – making it ideal for transportation in remote, hard-to-reach areas. The 459 Ospreys on the US Defence Department’s books have cost them a cool $57.8 billion, but they feel the money is justified: Boeing custom-designed the aircraft to the Defence Department’s specifications, making it a couture piece of equipment for the world’s richest military. The tiltrotor is twice as fast as a normal helicopter and far more agile, and is capable of carrying up to 20,000 pounds of internal cargo, or 15,000 of external cargo, should you prefer the outdoor view. To top it all off, the Osprey can cover much greater distances than a typical helicopter, making it more like a conventional aeroplane – but make no mistake, it’s far less 747, and much more 007.
7. F-35 Lightning II: $109 Million
Although these aircraft are still in development and are not actually undertaking missions yet, the US Defence Department is still pretty excited about them. So excited, in fact, that they put down a $326 billion order for 2,500 of these bad boys. $109 million for a joint strike fighter is a sweet deal worthy of a bulk-buy, apparently. The aircraft are envisaged as having a variety of different missions, with several different models within the fleet: The larger models will go to the army while those more suited to shorter runways will be deployed to the Navy’s fleet of aircraft carriers. These stealth fighters will be capable of surface-to-air and air-to-air strikes as well reconnaissance missions. Lockheed Martin, the aircraft’s manufacturers, describe the single-seat aeroplane as offering “unprecedented capability and supportability across the spectrum of military operations” and view the squadron of F-35s as a replacement for many of the military’s existing aircraft. With a $326 billion order from the US military, that’s hardly surprising.
6. P-8A Poseidon: $206.5 Million
Another product from Boeing’s aircraft collection to make its way to the US Defence Department, the P-8A Poseidon is the Navy’s ultimate aircraft. With the tagline of “nowhere to run, nowhere to hide” on Boeing’s website, it’s a fairly safe bet that the Poseidon is not a low-cost aircraft. The long-range aeroplane is used for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare as well as intelligence and surveillance collection. With a 123 foot wingspan and a top speed of 564 miles per hour, the Poseidon means business. The US Navy currently have over a hundred of these in their arsenal, clocking in at $33 billion in total cost for the lot. The Indian Navy, too, have been tempted by the Poseidon and are said to have purchased a number of the aircraft from Boeing. The manufacturers boast that the P-8A Poseidon “closes the kill chain” through its weaponry while simultaneously gathering data on the enemy. Apparently, these are not weapons for the faint-hearted.
5. F-22 Raptor: $211.6 Million
The F-22 is probably the best known fighter-jet in the world and its fame and reliability means that it comes at a pretty high price tag. At just over $211 million it’s the most expensive fighter jet in the world, but that hasn’t put the US army off – they have a fleet of 188 F-22s at a total cost of $79.2 billion. That’s more than the GDP of many countries, including the combined GDP of Kenya, Uganda and Somalia. The stealth fighter is so popular because of it’s quick, agile capabilities – and of course its densely-loaded weaponry. Each fighter jet is equipped with two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, 6 medium-range air-to-air missiles and two 1,000 pound bombs. Oh, and eight 250 pound bombs, just in case the other arsenal wasn’t enough. The F-22 has been used by the Department of Defence since 2005 but has quickly made a name for itself as the go-to fighter jet in the world. Made by Lockheed Martin – the developers of the F-35 Lightning II – the F-22 Raptor is described by the company as having “a first-look, first-shot, first-kill capability,” and for being unprecedented in the military world. We’ll take their word for it.
4. Arleigh Burke-Class Destroyer: $1.299 Billion
When the word “destroyer” appears in your name, it’s a fairly safe bet to assume you mean business. And business is exactly what the Arleigh Burk-Class Destroyer is after. The 500 foot long, 9,200 tonnes vessels are manned with a 550 strong crew and are the pinnacle of the Navy’s prowess in the ocean. The destroyers, which are also known as DDG5s, have been used by the military since 1995 and with a fleet of 75 it seems the Department of Defence is a pretty happy customer. The jewels in the destroyer’s crown are the Tomahawk missiles that each vessel comes equipped with. A Tomahawk- for those of you not in the know- is a long-range, unmanned cruise missile, favoured by the US Navy. The missiles are particularly hard to detect by radar, making them perfect for long-distance assaults; they were used extensively during the Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm in Iraq in the early 1990s, and the Bosnian war in 1995.
3. Ohio Class Submarine: $2 Billion
You may be forgiven for thinking that $2 billion is an extortionate amount to spend on a submarine – or any form of transportation for that matter – but that sort of attitude won’t get you anywhere in the Department of Defence. Why? Well, they don’t have just one or two of these $2-billion-a-pop vessels; nope, in fact eighteen of these US submarines are lurking under the ocean. And if you’re wondering what exactly $2 billion gets you, here’s the spiel: The 155 person crew doesn’t exactly sleep in the lap of luxury, but as submarines go the Ohio is pretty nifty. A nuclear submarine, the Ohio is pretty much self-sufficient once it goes below the water level, and assuming nothing goes wrong with the nuclear reactor, it can stay submerged indefinitely- provided, of course, there’s enough to feed 155 military mouths of course! The submarine can separate oxygen out from the surrounding water and can filter sea water to make it drinkable for up to 100 years. This technology was however, mostly developed for worst-case scenarios, with Ohios generally spending around 77 days at sea before coming back to port for regular maintenance. Alongside their long life cycle, the 560 foot submarines carry up to 24 ballistic missiles and can be found at the naval ports of Bangor WA and Kings Bay, GA.
2. Virginia Class Submarine: $2.55 Billion
Apparently anything named after a state is going to cost you some major cash; the Ohio looks like a bargain compared to the Virginia. Smaller than the Ohio at 337 foot, the Virginia is a more dextrous vessel, capable of carrying out operations in both deep and shallow waters. Its smaller size also makes the submarine much faster, with a top speed of 25 knots and armed with a sneaky stash of stealth technology, making it undetectable to enemies. Currently the US Navy has 30 of these in their arsenal at a total cost of $76.6 billion. And in case you were wondering why these submarines need to be so stealthy, it’s because each submarine is carrying up to 38 weapons on board, including those deadly Tomahawk missiles that can strike targets up to 1,000 miles away. Not the kind of thing you want sneaking up on you in deep or shallow waters, then…
1. USS Gerald R. Ford: $11.5 Billion
If you thought naming something after a US state made it pricey, check out how much things named after presidents run at! The USS Gerald R. Ford – or the CVN-78 Class to give it its technical name – is the first in a new line of aircraft carriers currently under construction in Newport News, Virginia. According to reports, the US Navy has ordered three of these aircraft carriers so far – at a current estimated total cost of $40.2 billion, but that bill may rise as much as 21%. It’s hoped that the first of these will be at sea by 2015 with plans for the naval fleet to be established by 2040. With such a hefty price tag however, the Gerald R. Ford is not without controversy: Delays in production as well as overrunning budgets have made the vessel unpopular with many doubting it’s superiority in relation to the existing naval fleet. Tests around the take-off and landing of aircraft to the carrier have raised concerns, too, so perhaps plans for that multi-billion dollar 2040 fleet will be put on the back burner for the time being.